There have not been many transformations like this witnessed in history.Madonna has come close a few times but to go from an outdoor gear shop that outfitted Charles Lindbergh to a teen retailer with $1.43 billion in revenue known for ads featuring scantily clad models hiking in the woods is rather remarkable.
And even after Abercrombie made this radical change it continued to move forward as a brand led by its unconventional and flexible CEO Michael Jeffries who has led the company through racial lawsuits, ad criticism and a recession to make it a portfolio favourite and have a loyal customer following.
The company was started in 1898 by David T. Abercrombie as a small waterfront shop on South Street in Manhattan called Abercrombie Co.
High-profile lawyer Ezra Fitch, a regular customer, bought a major share into the company. The shop became Abercrombie & Fitch in 1904 when Ezra Fitch was officially named co-founder.
The store continued to grow but the founders eventually parted ways because Abercrombie wanted to keep it as an outdoor gear shop but Fitch wanted to do more general retail.
After Abercrombie sold his shares in 1907 the company continued to expand in size and started a mail-order catalogue.The catalogue was profitable but almost bankrupted the company to produce it.
In 1910 it became the first company to sell clothing to both women and men.
It opened a 12-story store on Madison Avenue with floors that including a shooting range and a golf school. Its logo was 'The Greatest Sporting Store in the World'.
In 1927 A&F was the official outfitter for Charles Lindbergh's flight across the Atlantic Ocean. Other clients included Ernest Hemingway and Teddy Roosevelt.
Though the Great Depression was tough on sales it managed to make it out led by new president Otis Guernsey.
It hit its sales peak in 1947 and continued to expand in the 1950's with shops in San Francisco and Florida.
However, by the early 1960's net sales were dropping and new president John Ewing refused to cut prices or have sales.
Limited brought in Michael Jeffries to run the new Abercrombie. Jefferies saw that the teen retail market was about to get huge in the early 90's and he knew that it had to be A&F's focus.
He took the fashion in a very preppy, casual direction but tried to bring in some of the original brand's outdoorsy appeal into the marketing.
In the early 2000's it was voted the sixth most popular brand by teenagers, according to a survey.
It brought in strategy executives to infuse the store with the most popular style, music and entertainment. Its web sites and catalogues included articles on pop culture and music. Abercrombie TV was even launched for a short period.
It also mostly hires sales clerks that were typically young and attractive to appeal to teen customers.
The store always offers denim and basic shirts including tees, tanks and sweatshirts for its customers.
Customers not only liked the fashion which helped the company have several successful earnings quarters in a row, other companies tried to provide the same type of style like American Eagle.
A&F sued AEO in 1998 for ripping off its company, from clothing to catalogues. AEO won the suit.
The A&F catalogue is arguably one of the most talked-about ad campaigns in history. Parents hated it which is why kids were drawn to it.
Jeffries brought in photographer Bruce Weber to shoot racy ads.
The pictures in the quarterly catalogues were criticised by the media and protested by many religious groups for promoting teen sex. Most of the pictures featured scantily-clad teen models in precarious positions. The catalogue actually stopped being published in 2003 but it was reinstated last year.
The ads used in store windows also drew a ton of criticism and in one case led to a store owner being sued for displaying them.
In 2005 the company payed a settlement of $40 million after it lost a federal discrimination case. The class-action suit charged the company with refusing to hire Latino, Asian American and African American applicants.
Most recently the company has been criticised by the media and religious groups for selling padded bikinis in its children store, abercrombie.
A&F was one of the hardest hit retailers during the recession but instead of lowering prices like most of his competitors he raised prices to preserve the brand and strengthen profits which payed off eventually.
He has also drawn some attention for his emphasis on his youthful looks and style as well as his affection for using the word dude in interviews.
In 1997 A&F launched abercrombie for ages 7 through 14, in 2000 it started Hollister which offers lower-priced items and is considered to be a very strong brand.
It's latest expansion came in 2008 when it started underwear and loungeware store Gilly Hicks which is considered to be a brand with momentum.
The company just raised its outlook for the year after better-than-expected earnings and production numbers are expected to stay high with the combination of international expansion and store closings in the U.S.
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